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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sweet Mnemosyne, 'tis thou hast ravished me

I feel quite strongly that one major stage of transition is coming to a close.
It would seem likely that this marks the end of 'looking glass' changes relating to conscious/ unconcious permutations.
I don't mean such terms as any kind of engagement with psycho-analysis, but rather with  everyday experience of consciousness. For most of us our self experience is of the eventualities of conscious engagement with information processing and with those which come from processes obscure to our purview. That's the only distinction I'm making .
For myself, my experience of gender change has been a transformation starting at the frameworks of arousal and perception, running through the changed possibilities of processing and finally coming at last in force to memory.
On a more basic level, the process is one of hormones and the plasticity of neurology combining to move towards a female norm.  With memory having such a strong gender dimorphic nature in terms of variant locations of the amygdala being used, it's likely to be one of the last to fall into line(?).
The last time I wrote about memory was
That still applies, in that there's a distance. I'm no longer quite so sure about how different I am in that respect compared to other trans people. Sometimes wonder whether it's simply a more gradual process with others as hormonal change thoroughly affects them.
In other ways, though, memory is really very changed in a process I've been aware of for the last year and a half.
And it seems very atypical for anything to do with the aging process.
The most obvious phenomenon is an increase in detail. Every memory I encounter seems more vivid, more detailed than before. It makes no difference whether this is memory from before or after hormonal perception related effects, something I find hugely significant and will write more of at a later date.
And of course there's also a rise in the number of memories easily accessible. It's very difficult to quantify but I'd say between 10 and 30 times as many, leaning more to the latter figure. Talking to cis woman friends and a couple of times the notion of memory as a burden came up. I don't experience that yet but can definitely understand it. Love the way it also adds to both the motivation and richness in female/female life exchange meetings.
Retrieval itself, as a process, is also very changed. As a man it felt far more like using a search engine than now. Memories were organised far more in terms of placement within an abstract model of the world or its projected structure. It is something that makes me rather more scatty. Whereas before I'd tell myself to, say, remember something in the morning because it's necessary to eventually complete x or y with a fair confidence, now, unless x and y are visible and quite personal it doesn't always work.
Example. Someone asked me where a mutual friend lived. Didn't remember the address offhand and started to answer but very aware of a variety of memories clustered together and immediately accessible. Could picture the london A-Z clearly, the page I'd last looked at to get there 6 months before. Which the tube stop was, getting off the platform, getting on to the Finchley road and quickly turning off it, a restaurant about 12 doors along and parts of it's window display, a sleeping policeman, the slightly overgrown hedges of a side street as I turned right and the 5 or 6 blocks before the house and the scents and... It took an effort to concentrate on exactly what I'd actually say in answer. Before it would be name of tube stop, directions left, quick left again and the first main right, about 10 minutes walk, without even thinking.
Perhaps this is actually an intermediate stage and that retrieval will get more efficient the more used to it I get. Or it could be that it's more a question of getting used the that extra level of depth. Maybe also a coming in to focus.
The tie to personal narrative is very strong. Going back to specific memories gives a sheaf of others to a far greater extent than before.
Example. Forgetting my pin number at the bank, remembering a couple of digits but not all of it, to mild embarassment. Talked to someone about it later, mentioning that I was in the middle of a post on memory and she actually thought that might have something to do with it. Don't really agree much with that in this instance but can understand the feeling of memories now tied down by a number of associations rather than riveted by a more focussed placement that might be testosterone typical.
Recently saw a study on prosody helping fix memories for women, the rhythm and tone of the words themselves as factors. I suppose that ties in to the same notion.
But mainly I see the example as more related to mental rehearsal. Undoubtedly I spend far less time in the successive approximations and conditional constructions that typified my male consciousness.But when I used to be there it had a benefit of rehearsing the future, of naturally being armed with rehearsed knowledge of what was needed/expected And in the process do something which deepens channels of retrieval for the associated variables. In thinking of going to the bank I'd be brushing up against the necessity of remembering my pin number, my actions being part of an optimistically predicted set of events in which I managed perfect recall of my pin number and consummate a financial transaction.So, without that rehearsal, memories aren't readied in the same way and a consequent forgetfullness can easily be fallen into.
Is this a long winded way of saying I'm getting to be a bit of a ditz ? No, I think, and / or hope, that the processes of memory are finally coming fully into line.It's a question of balance.
I've never been one for spending much time thinking about the past. Don't take photos, never very much liked reminiscing, though for other reasons now.Thats changed somewhat, if only to the extent that I often want to try it out. My earliest memory of being about 18 months old  is, when I return to it, more detailed with colours and scents. Have two memories that I've chosen to come back to and try and see whether I can remember more - meeting someone 5 years ago and a college seminar on the axiom of choice from the seventies. So far, after about half a dozen tries, there's always more details to be made out.
It feels somewhat like a temptation I should ration, not least because I'm so rarely 'there' in older memories apart from a sensory bundle. 5 years ago and my own state is more clearly recalled but it's almost like a dissociated procession of images, a distantly viewed movie.
Because, I suppose, the joys of this sea change include living in a world grown so full of the lushest ambiguities, the capability of such finer distinctions, compared to what once was. And so much of that comes from the illumination of memory.
More prosaicly it's about memory becoming even worse in terms of everyday sometimes critical stuff, whilst having a wonderful garden of the past to work. But it is the past, only the past, and perhaps an overindulgence for my newly 17 year old heart. My 7 / 17 / 61 birthday party comes at the weekend, something I absolutely won't forget about before, and hopefully, for good reasons, not after either.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

10 things I wish I hadn't known about before transition.

 I've had a very different and probably more supported transition than many other people and would make it clear that this list is strictly from a personal perspective. Others may find these things far more useful than I. 'Know one transsexual know one transsexual'.                                                                                                                                                 
1. The 'be prepared to lose everything' one. Whilst I can agree totally with the sentiment I do have a problem with the way it's put over that the major things are family, friends and sexual orientation that are at risk.
If I have to think of one thing that I really wish I still had, it's none of those. It's banter. I really used to love male/male banter. Losing that was very difficult, in part because it was so unexpected but also so inevitable, given the change from testosterone mediation of arousal. Or more simply not getting that boost to general awareness that comes from simulated challenge amongst males, and not, therefore, to have the slightest desire to simulate aggression to continue that behaviour. But that dance of words I do miss.

2. The 'it's the hardest thing you'll ever do' one. The impression is that superhuman effort against heavy odds may well be necessary. And again the focus is on the outside world and it's acknowledgement of our being in our gender. It sets up a a presumption of hostility there that I find an unwanted barrier in itself. For the most part I've encountered acceptance and often a shared excitement in talking me through my adolescence.

3. The 'it's the hardest thing you'll ever do' one, again. The hardest parts for me were the parts where I didn't have agency. Pms can be difficult and periods, in so far as what happens to me emotionally about every month equates to such, have occasionally provided absolutely poisonous depressions. All the wonders of the new emotional world !
And then the times when internal adjustments needed to be made. A wave of sensitivity needing to be integrated and understood or a change in memory or sexuality or whatever.*

*Actually I do have one idea for helping the trans unemployment problem and recognising the efforts required to transition. Just give every trans person an earned Phd in gender studies after 3 years of rle. Because it truly is earned.

4.The 'maximum preparedness' one. I understood I really was female and needed to transition at the end of october and I had a fairly busy 2 month run-up to the new year during which I had to get female clothes, prepare to shave for the first time in about 40 years, learn something about makeup and everything from posture to voice. Prepared I was not. Of course my approach isn't necessarily desirable, but it is possible and I think it would have been a significant help to me to also be somewhat assured as to that. Needs must.

5.The 'I must have repressed it' one. It's not that I seriously ever considered this one but it has been a hypothesis I've kept alongside for far too long. Simply I'm a rather male woman born from a rather  female man by way of hormonal/neurological interraction. Because both of these things can change in small, but oh so significant, ways, over time, with me and others. Obviously there was a birth brain condition, otherwise this couldn't have happened, but that doesn't necessarily imply identity, repressed or otherwise.

6. Terfs and HBSers. I trust that's self explanatory.

7.The rules of presentation - the right things to wear, the right sounding voice,the right everything. I'm someone who has always lived in the heart of cities, chelsea and bayswater in london and now kreuzberg in berlin with intervals in köln, amsterdam and stockholm. I tend to think that most of the 'rules' about such things come mainly from a suburban mind set. I wear, like most of my cis friends, little makeup. I dress nearly entirely secondhand, and I live in an international community of friends. Our rules are extremely flexible, where they exist at all.
The best advice I've ever had about clothes came from a woman talking about how relieved she'd been to stop all that bullshit of wearing different outfits everyday. Words to live by. And not being concerned with the male gaze is liberating, though the butch/femme border I'm on is a narrow one.
With voice I'm profoundly happy not to have had vocal coaching.

8.The 'you start at sixteen again' one. I started at 10. I now identify as 16, though more properly 6,16 and 60. Soon enough it'll be maiden, mother, hag. I'm witchy enough for the latter, have enough daughter surrogates around to justify the middle one, and the first will hopefully be symbolically delivered surgically.

9. The 'passing' one. Someone misgendered me a few weeks ago. Basically because I still have a somewhat masculine face and at the time I was bundled up against the snow, and the guy hadn't seen or heard me. Does that happen to FAAB women ? Sure. At the start of transition I'd be distraught, now it's an annoyance. 'Passing' is a problematic goad that can stay well beyond it's usefulness.

10. The narrative. The one that talks about identity as something with no correlates, a mystic feeling rather than a rational identification of oneself as of a particular gender contrary to gross anatomical considerations. Because that would upset too many interests.
The narrative that centres the transsexual journey as the prime expression of being trans, with little rhyme or reason save to add the respectability and intelligibility of such a journey. The narrative that talks of a spectrum of condition to hold together a political grouping. The narrative with an implicit elitist structure. The one that doesn't account adequately for most of my gender literate friends. The tyranny of a fairy tale.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Assorted ghosts

In the window, prints and a copper hunting horn.
On top of the shelves. One buteo buteo (common buzzard) wings outstretched. A pair of brass oil lamps with glass shades and funnels and a pair of decorated edwardian chamber pots. Another buteo buteo perched over the entrance to the back room. A mason's ironware vase, another vase with flower decorations by my milliner grandmother, a set of encyclopedia britannica and a pink and black deco clock.
In the book / display cabinet opposite.An early art deco clock with dancing figures and an art nouveau bronze vase and a pottery pumpkin. A brass krishna,an art nouveau print, two victorian serving plates, a small studio teapot, a 19thC bicycle light, some repro scrimshaw, a staffordshire flatback and a strawberry shaped candle, for some reason or other. And a 19thC print, an 18thC chinese plate and other assorted pottery, a flat iron,a stoppered glass bottle, a brownie camera and a brick sized hunk of polished labradorite. And a bubblegum dispenser, an irridescent glass bowl,small deco teapot and cup,a printers block with the imprint of IT magazine, a jar of spectacles, a top hat with chess pieces inside, a photo book of the shop, various prints and a large b/w photo of the old me with a twenty year old blonde girl slung over his shoulder.
In the cabinet by the door a large plastic wonderfully kitsch figure of lakshmi with light and a fountain built in, and a printers metal photo of Beckett.
On the wall by the stairs behind my desk a number of pages from an already broken 19thC book on the history of illustrated manuscripts framed in plain glass.
Centre a large copper light fitting,early edwardian with torchere and lots of glass beading.
And then there are the books, the shelves, and the furniture I helped design, all in blues and reds and circus regency style.
Thats the front room of the shop,a haunt of my narrative memory.
So every day I can choose to see these bright ghosts it conjures around me.Finding the labradorite at the pavilion at hanovers world fair, getting the bicycle lamp from a little antique shop near Theresienstadt concentration camp on the way to Prague, being given the krishna by my second wife, buying the flatback from a small country auction,the blonde girl and I lovers of a sort and central figures in a photo book project, and so many others.On the other hand most come with memories of that different time when I was a rather different animal. That doesn't greatly trouble me now, but it's at a remove. When I remember now, memory has far more sensory details going back all my life, not just the last 4 years. Most of the objects now come with their own more detailed scenarios of purchase or reminders of other lives to this. But with those times before 4 years, it's kind of distanced, phantasmagoric, because I no longer have that much connection with the guy I was. Like looking through someone elses magic lantern eyes.*
By now there's a similar effect about the first year or so too, back in the early stages of transition. Looking back, from my lofty 16 year old self, on that awesome 10 year old I was that my hopes and desires are still founded on.
With the books there are so many reappraisals, so many reaquaintances to make. I am in so many relationships with them but it's complicated, to coin a phrase.
Travelled back to London recently and there, and here in Berlin too, meeting a few old friends from the dim and distant. By now I suppose all the women friends bar a couple from before have more or less made up their minds about what kind of animal I am. All treat me a female. All may have some reservations, slight or, in a couple of cases, amounting to outright denial, but most come as far as they're able, and that's most of the way and good enough for me. Though for that couple, being their ghost is still a little un nerving .There's always that wave of open acceptance to cherish from most though and really can't imagine any conversational subjects I don't share with them. And with newer ones they tend to have me fixed as a woman before they might find me to be trans so things are far far simpler.
Men are rather different. Older friends sometimes seem towant to catch a glimpse of that ghost of an older self peering out. Which is normal, but trying at times. And there's the awkwardness always of knowing what is expected of you as an old friend and absolutely not delivering on it and instead trying to substitute different output. Newer guy friends are in many ways more supportive. I do think men possibly are more appreciative of how complicated, how much work actually is involved in transition. It's guys who inevitably come up with the question 'and are you really happy now?' at the end of coming out stories,with well meant sympathy. Guys here happily do volunteer for stuff more, and actually have had more guys telling me how outraged they were at Julie Burchill than women, though several of both. Sweet but never was one for guys.
And I suppose there is additionally something spectral about those ways of looking at people. My life doesn't have very much of a trans component, don't think about passing anymore or learning the very basics of womanhood. Apart from surgery and tidying up some hair and final paperwork don't intend any further acts of transition, though obviously it's a lifetime process internally.
Still don't know about how I really want to meet the male gaze. Do mildly cheat it I suppose by apparently doing a librarian look, where a ghost of masculinity is part of the stereotype. But then I suppose I am a librarian much of the time anyway.
And there's the ghost at the party role that I'm vacating. Most of my life is spent in the shop as my living room and a small flat in the house above, and haven't had a lot to do with the queer or trans worlds, except for people passing through the place. Which is now changing. In less than three weeks the first womens queer / trans sunday starts. I'll be doing my usual friday cooking thing and serving at 2 and there'll be a vegan meal at 7 and I'm going to be highly invested in the results. We've got about 50 people interested and sending out messages to Ladyfest and queer berlin sites this week. The hope is a mix of social and serious, and of the different groups. Basically cis men and straight women are by invitation only, but hopefully not unwelcome for that. Otherwise lbtiqqaa/quiltba .
Like all groups here it'll be english language so there'll likely be predominantly american.  The trans crowd I'm not sure on. I've heard that a few times an independent e/l group of trans women has been mooted so hopefully some will come and try the place out. The queer feminist vegan sex shop around the corner has a lot of english speaking people passing through and we could maybe cooperate on some things. Most of my queer friends say it could be a real addition to the scene. There are many lesbian and queer hangouts and much english speaking but mainly bars and party places, unlike the gay scene where it's large enough to have more conversational venues. And I'll happily put energy into a queer reading group here, I know a couple of people who'd go for some activist things, not sure if there's a zine interest maybe, could link with the queer film archive using the back room beamer,etc etc.All the possibilities and, in Tartakower's words, all the mistakes waiting to be made.
*Has anyone out there read R.A.Lafferty's story 'through other eyes' ? Huge recommend for transition analogy.

Do think that if you're trans there's that other ghost thing that you're more closely aquainted with than the normal cis person. The borders of the ghost in the machine, the